I just signed up on this site today to post about The Master. I believe P.T. Anderson to be the best filmmaker of this generation and Philip S. Hoffman the greatest actor. Their work together over the past 15 years or so rival any director/actor collaboration in movie history, imo.
Fist of all, the technical aspects of this film blew me away. The art direction and wardrobe in particular, were amazing. The clothes must have all been specially made because they were so incredibly detailed to that era. The cinematography was beautiful, as usual, but what makes him so great is the performances he squeezes out of his actors. The Master is no different. The only problem I had was with Amy Adams. Not her performance, necessarily, but why is she in EVERY fucking movie? I'm sick of her already.
As with all P.T. Anderson's movies, the conflict is internal. I agree that this and his last film, There Will Be Blood, were obviously influenced by Stanley Kubrick (imo the greatest filmmaker of all time) and that is not a bad thing. I have to disagree with some of the posts here about the story. I didn't find it dull at all. This movie is about control and domination.
During the war the Navy was in control of Quell. He is reduced to fucking a pile of sand in front of his shipmates, who sit by numbly watching what is basically an act of violence. At first I was a little offended by this opening sequence because I am a Navy veteran and nobody ever jerked off in front of each other when I was onboard ship. Now, I think this is less a swipe at the military than just a device to characterize Quell.
It's interesting that there's been discussion about Dodd being a closeted homosexual and that he is really sexually attracted to Quell. This is exactly what I thought about Daniel Plainview in TWBB, but I didn't think so in this movie. I felt the sexual motivations were based more in S&M than homosexuality. This is evident by the relationship between Dodd and his wife, Peggy. She is the one who is in control of the whole operation because she is in total control of her husband. The hand-job scene is a good example of this. She gets him off sexually as a means of control. Also, I'm not convinced that the scene prior, when Dodd sings (fucking stellar acting by PSH) that Quell is hallucinating that the women are naked. This scene was VERY Kubrickian. I'm not dismissing the argument, because there is a lot of sexual tension between Quell and Dodd, but its not what I came away with at the time.
I lived in Hollywood and have experiences around Scientology. Some of which were storied told to me by friends, others were things I witnessed. I find the whole thing extremely creepy and downright scary. I don't know if this movie is directly attacking Scientology or not, but one this is for sure, they own Hollywood. Look at the classifieds in the back of any acting trade paper. There are always ads saying something to the effect: Come and meet 'so and so' casting director...Meet and greet with 'so and so' actor...Actors workshop with 'so and so' director. They are always sponsored by The Church of Scientology. Hollywood is a place where is it easy to prey on the desperate and that is exactly what I think is going on. BTW Steve Martin's 'Bowfinger' is a more devastating critique of Scientology than 'The Master'
Anyway I think I really like this site. Some of the posts in this thread are thoughtful and intelligent.